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University of Illinois Chicago studies Black homelessness for the Illinois Office to Prevent and End Homelessness

Cover of the University of Chicago's Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy report on Black homelessness in Illinois
Dwight Ford
Project Now
Cover of the University of Chicago's Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy report on Black homelessness in Illinois

Project Now, a part of the Racial Equity Roundtable, worked with the university to release a study on institutional structures exacerbating Black homelessness in Illinois. Christine Haley, Chief Homelessness Officer for Illinois, visited SouthPark Mall on June 28th to discuss the report with Project Now.

Illinois Office to Prevent and End Homelessness(OPEH) was created in September 2021 to coordinate statewide efforts. As part of this effort, OPEH convened a roundtable of experts on the Black unhoused population. The Racial Equity Roundtable on Black Homelessness met bi-monthly to inform the research design, provide support for the data collection, provide feedback on the analysis and report drafts, and develop recommendations for action.

Dwight Ford is the executive director of the non-profit Project Now, which provides various services, including rural transit and utility assistance, to residents of Henry, Mercer, and Rock Island counties.

Ford is one of many members of the Racial Equity Roundtable who has worked with OPEH and the University of Illinois Chicago for over a year, conducting focus groups and analyzing unemployment and other relevant data.

"Black individuals and families are eight times more likely than their white counterparts as citizens of Illinois to be unhoused," Ford said in a phone interview with WVIK Friday morning. "That just doesn't fall out of the air; that's just not Black folks not paying their rent or their mortgage payments. This is a reality of the history of redlining in America, restrictive covenants...this is how vicious it was."

Ford says the racial disparity gap experiencing homelessness between Black and white Americans is the second highest in the nation behind New York.

The researchers at the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy at the University of Chicago obtained data for their research using point-in-time (PIT) counts of homelessness from the 19 Continuums of Care (CoC) in Illinois and the 382 national CoCs.

"We're obligated as a continuum of care for northwestern Illinois to work with corrections and law enforcement, but we need to be able to get in all of the facilities; 90 to 100 days reentry does not start when they are released with $100, and a bus ticket," Ford said. "That is disastrous. We have to be able to work with people much longer."

Ford says the report recommends bolstering the Illinois Department of Housing Authority, which helps with the Court-Based Rental Assistance Program with state funding, supporting households in eviction court. He also says foster care should reevaluate the process when kids age out of the system and allow more time to work with teens to find housing.

"There are things that we can do within the state to allow a better chance to keep people housed," Ford said. "And if there is an event of unhoused reality, that it will be extremely rare, brief and non-reoccurring for that individual or family."

The report was released in March of this year, and OPEH earmarked $50 million to address the roundtable's recommendations. The report categorizes the three main pillars funding would address, reading in part: "build affordable and permanent supportive housing, bolster the safety net, improve financial stability, and close the mortality gap."

The report discussion with Ford and Haley occurred at the traveling exhibition called "Evicted" at the SouthPark Mall in Moline. It's based on Matthew Desmond's book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.

"It just gives the numbers, it gives the narratives, it gives people a chance to look into the world...," Ford said.

The exhibition is free and open to the public until August 10th.

Ford says the next steps are to localize the report's recommendations and ask the community for assistance in combating homelessness.

"There's a place for us all. We build our continual movement toward a better and more just and fair society built on the idea of maximum feasible participation," Ford said. "There's a place for your hands in the work, a place for your heart in the work and surely a place for your mind in the work."

Brady is a 2021 Augustana College graduate majoring in Multimedia Journalism-Mass Communication and Political Science. Over the last eight years, he has reported in central Illinois at various media outlets, including The Peoria Journal Star, WCBU Peoria Public Radio, Advanced Media Partners, and WGLT Bloomington-Normal's Public Media.